I have long teased your dad about his tendency to overbuild. When he built our compost bin, for example, I joked that it would be a great tornado shelter, because it was way more massive than I had envisioned it.
But the truth is, he builds things well: well-planned and built-to-last.
When we bought our house ten years ago, a large maple tree towered in the backyard. She was massive, but we knew she wouldn’t live long because she was hollowed out, a large dark gaping hole at her heart, a cave of sorts. She reached high to the sky, though, and every season would drop thousands of helicopters, a last gasp at life, it seemed.
Over the years, I wrote many poems about that tree, so rich in symbolism with the hole in her heart and leaves dancing in the wind, reaching for the sky.
You can see what I mean about the symbolism.
A few summers ago, knowing she wouldn’t be safe for much longer, your dad decided to cut back her huge limbs and build a treehouse of sorts around her.
Now, I thought he was going to build a treehouse which was the equivalent of slapping a few pieces of plywood up there and nailing them into the tree and calling it good.
Needless to say, that is not what he was planning. And even his plans, which were already pretty heavy-duty, had to be revisited: as soon as he tried to mount anything to the tree, he realized she was not able to support any amount of weight. She was even more rotted than we knew; the cave in her heart wasn’t just from the bottom, but also from the top. (In fact, there was a possum residing up there, but that’s an amusing story for another day.)
So in order to build a treehouse “in” the tree, the structure would have to be completely self-supporting, surrounding the tree. Completely self-supporting.
And so it is.
In fact, it has been mentioned a time or two that the treehouse is likely to outlive the tree.
It is a tall treehouse: tall enough that we adults can walk under it with a push mower.
It is a strong treehouse: strong enough to bear adult weight, though most adults don’t feel comfortable up so high, we’ve learned.
Your dad added a basket and pulley system; the ladder rungs are intentionally wide to keep tiny tots (mostly) from climbing it; and even with the limbs cut back and the bark barely holding on these days, the tree has enough mass to partly shade the back of the treehouse through the hottest part of the day.
What I mean is, the treehouse has been a resounding success, drawing neighborhood kids into the yard, entertaining you both for hours at a time. It is your restaurant and your kitchen, your secret area, your garden, your mess of sand and buckets. I don’t even know the half of it, because I don’t go up there.
But this week, as I sat in the yard and looked at the tree—still hollow, even more so than before, the bark now crumbling off, somewhat due to the neighbor kids, and the strong limbs chopped off and broken—she seemed forlorn, resigned, maybe even sad.
Or maybe that’s not fair. Maybe she was none of these things.
Maybe it was just that seasons change in unexpected ways, especially when you are settled into a rhythm that seems to be working, and you’re pretty sure you know the direction things are going.
But then they don’t go that way.
These are heavy feelings.
Because though she no longer reaches to the sky, her new life as a playground—you are both able to climb to the very tippy top of her chopped-off limbs and perch there, frighteningly high—somehow, miraculously, this new life simultaneously gives me hope while my heart feels the weight of sadness. Isn’t that a strange paradox?
Yes, she gives me hope, nonetheless, that there is a new season to be discovered, even as some things get more and more crumbly around us.
Girls, I thought this would be a letter about Covid-19 and how I’m processing it, but as it turns out, it isn’t.
Or at least it isn’t only about that.
I’m reading a lot of Jan Richardson’s poetry blessings these days, mostly from her collection Circle of Grace: A Book of Blessings for the Seasons. Richardson’s words are helping guide my thoughts during this extraordinarily Lenten upheaval we are all living through.
Her blessing, “Rough Translations,” in the Lent section of the book, opens with these lines:
Hope still.– Jan Richardson, from “Rough Translations,” Circle of Grace
Girls, these are the words that were on my mind this week while you were playing in the yard on a bright day of sunshine as schools were being closed around the country, and I was studying the broken and beautiful tree (from my comfortable, albeit overbuilt, wooden swing), and somehow it seems fitting to end with them, too, I think.
Hope nonetheless, girls.